I heard the story about a guy named Stan and his friend who was leaving the sanctuary Easter Sunday after worship. As was his custom, the preacher was standing at the door greeting people. He grabbed Stan’s friend by the hand and pulled him aside. The Pastor said to him, “You need to join the Army of the Lord!” The friend replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor.” The Pastor asked, “Well then how come I don’t see you except on Christmas and Easter?” He whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”
All joking aside, we just celebrated Easter on April 1. The resurrection carries profound implications every day of our lives in every area of our lives. How? 1 Peter 1:3-4 makes this powerful declaration: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (NIV).
The Apostle Peter starts the letter by stating that we praise God because in his mercy has given us new birth into a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection.This idea is rich, so let’s spend some time unpacking it.
First, is “in his great mercy.” Mercy refers to God’s compassion. Did you know God has a deep passion for you? That he cares for you with a love that you and I cannot begin to fathom? You may be thinking: “But I don’t feel it. How do I know God feels this way about me?”
Well, we know because “he has given us new birth.” “New birth” means “reborn, restored, made new.” Through faith in Jesus Christ, God makes us reborn, restored, made new. What’s that about? Using similar words, in John 3:3 Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”The Christian tradition teaches that each person is born with a sinful nature. This means the default setting of our hearts is to constantly say “no” to serving God and obeying his word while saying, “yes” to our selfish desires. That makes us estranged from God. And if we don’t address that sinful nature, when we die, God in his perfect justice, releases us into Hell, where we are separated from God’s loving presence for eternity.
However, the good news of the Bible is that God the Father sent Jesus to die on the cross to take away our sins and give us a new nature. And when we trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are reborn, made new. It’s a gift: we don’t deserve it, we cannot earn it; instead, we must turn away from our sins and receive it.
Amazingly, this new birth brings with it another gift: “a living hope.” Hope is assurance, confidence, expectation. This hope is not rooted in our feelings, but in the Holy Spirit, who lives inside every Christian. 1 Peter 3:18 states Christ “was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” And because we have this living hope inside us through the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, it’s inexhaustible. It’s with you all the time, everywhere. Now, what happens when it seems distant?
In that case, it’s best to look at the resurrection. Peter assets the resurrection secured this living hope. How so? First, the resurrection is a historical event: in 1 Cor. 15 the Apostle Paul states it’s a historical fact verified by the twelve apostles and over five-hundred witnesses. Second, the resurrection is attested to by a living person—Jesus Christ. We have a living hope because Jesus is living.
Bottom line, we praise God because in his mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection.
Now think about this: in 1 Peter 1 Peter pointed Christians—who were most likely experiencing persecution for their faith—to the resurrection because the resurrection changes everything, including the way we view evil and suffering.
John Lennox, a professor of mathematics at Oxford University and author of the book “Gunning for God,” tells a story about touring Eastern Europe and meeting a Jewish woman from South Africa. The woman told Lennox that she was researching how her relatives had perished in the Holocaust. At one point on their guided tour, they passed a display that said, “work makes free.” It was a replica of the main gate to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. Right then, the Jewish woman turned to Lennox and said, “And what does your religion make of this?” Lennox writes: “What was I to say? She had lost her parents and many relatives in the Holocaust… I had nothing in my life that remotely paralleled the horror her family had endured.” But she stood in the doorway waiting for an answer. I eventually said, “I would not insult your memory of your parents by offering you simplistic answers to your question… I have no easy answers; but I do have what, for me at least, is a doorway into an answer.” “What is it?” she asked. I replied, “You know that I am a Christian. That means that I believe that Yeshua [the Hebrew name for Jesus] is the Messiah. I also believe that he was God incarnate, come into our world as savior, which is what his name ‘Yeshua’ means. Now I know that this is even more difficult for you to accept. Nevertheless, just think about this question—if Yeshua was really God… what was God doing on a cross? Could it be that God begins just here to meet our heartbreaks, by demonstrating that he did not remain distant from our human suffering, but became part of it himself? For me, this is the beginning of hope; and it is a living hope that cannot be smashed by the enemy of death. The story does not end in the darkness of the cross. Yeshua conquered death. He rose from the dead; and one day, as the final judge, he will assess everything in absolute fairness, righteousness, and mercy.”
There was silence. After a moment, with tears in her eyes, very quietly but audibly, she said: “Why has no one ever told me that about my messiah before?”
The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus give us a profound hope.